I don’t like to be herded like an animal.

Does that bother you too?

I love to travel to different places and learn about the sites. I also love to plan. But after a certain point, you can’t plan any more. I had reached that point while organizing for a previous family trip to London.

(See related: A funny story at the museum)

I had done a lot of research and determined the activities I wanted to do. I had a “must do” and a “if there is time to do” list. Reservations were made, maps obtained, and schedule loosely created. By this time, I was getting burned out on the preparations and just wanted to go and enjoy. Part of the fun is just to live as the locals do anyway, right?

Then I realized, I had an oversight. Since I had no idea if or when I would get back to England I wanted to see Stonehenge. From London there are three ways to get to Stonehenge: train, bus, or rental car. We weren’t planning on renting a car, since London is not car-friendly and we weren’t accustomed to driving on the wrong, ahem left, side of the road. Just a little joke, sorry if you live in Great Britain. The train is expensive and requires a cab or bus in addition to the train. That leaves the bus.

I thought a tour would give us the opportunity to get out and see more of the country. I admit that when I think of tours I have visions of horribly-dressed masses of people walking in slow motion being spoon fed elementary information. We kind of pride ourselves on being independent and like the added flexibility of being on our own, so this was a stretch for us. But given the circumstances, we felt this was our best option. So we did it.

This article is a review of my experience with Premium Tours on a bus tour to Stonehenge, Lacock, and Bath.

 

Booking a Stonehenge tour

The tour was researched and booked online. I considered several alternatives while shopping. Looking at reviews and pricing, I decided upon a Premium Tours option that visited Stonehenge, lunch at Lacock, and Bath. I wanted to have an easy day for us, especially since I had kids along for the ride. I eventually opted for the late departure trip leaving at 10:30 in the morning.

The website was thorough and looked professional. I felt confident that everything was aboveboard. I booked for my entire family, 2 adults and 2 children. Since we were renting a flat in London, we didn’t have the luxury of having a direct pick up location. We chose to be picked up at the “Grovesnor Victoria” which was a typo for Grosvenor Victoria (we figured it out, but that wasn’t helpful to tourists not familiar with the area).

I received an email voucher immediately that had booking, ticket, and contact information. It was easy to book and we were set to go.

 

Pickup and Bus

The morning pickup was okay. It was chaotic outside of the hotel with many different buses and tons of traffic in the middle of the large city. It was a little stressful to figure out which bus/vehicle was for us. We managed to find the correct driver in a small van. The other parties in our group had a little more difficulty and took more time to locate the vehicle in the scramble.

At this point we were in a hurry because we were running late, which was a little confusing to us. The driver wasn’t forthcoming with information and simply said we need to catch up with the others. What others? Apparently, the late departure tour simply met up with a full day tour partway through their day. We were in a hurry because we were meeting the full day tour group at the Windsor Castle parking lot. If we didn’t make it in time, they would leave without us. Fortunately, we did make it in time to meet up with our group.

I have to say, it was a bummer to be driven to Windsor castle and see it from the parking lot and not be able to go inside. It felt like a little tease. At that point I was feeling bummed out that I didn’t choose the full day tour, but that changed later in the day.

When we found our group, we were ushered onto a large coach bus. It was comfortable, but did not have a bathroom. This was a little concerning as I had my kids with me, but we would make it. Then we were off on our Stonehenge tour.

 

Stonehenge

Stonehenge in Salisbury England

A little background for those who aren’t familiar with Stonehenge.

Located in Wiltshire, England, Stonehenge is the “most architecturally sophisticated prehistoric stone circle in the world.” The site also includes earthwork such as causeways, ditches, and banks. It dates back to the Neolithic and Bronze Age. It was listed as a World Heritage Site with UNESCO in 1986.

Since it was constructed, Stonehenge has had different configurations and uses. It is aligned with the solstitial axis which displays the seasonal significance to the builders. Many cremated human remains have been found buried there dating back to its earliest times.

There are a lot of theories about its purpose. Researchers are still learning new information all the time. Questions concerning where the stones came from and how they were transported are also discussed. If you want to learn more about Stonehenge, you can visit The English Heritage Site on Stonehenge.

I had read mixed reviews of Stonehenge tours. Some were underwhelmed while others thought it was worth the trip. I think it depends on your curiosity level and interest. If you are naturally inquisitive, the many questions that are still unanswered can’t help but intrigue you.

I was impressed. I was riding the bus just looking out the window. The scenery was consistent with lots of pastures and a few trees. This is why I was so struck as we approached Stonehenge. When I first saw it, I kind of got a chill down my spine. In the middle of nowhere, this huge prehistoric structure stands remarkably proud. The geometry is so intentional that it obviously has significance. It looks surreal and feels almost eerie.

Our guide ushered us around the circle talking and letting us soak it in. He had good information, but I did feel a little rushed. I would have liked to spend more time there as I don’t often get the opportunity to see prehistoric elements in their own context. I am happy that I visited and I would recommend it. My kids weren’t as impressed.

 

Lacock

Village of Lacock

Lacock Village. Credit: The Cotsworlds Tour Guide at http://www.cotswolds.info/ 

The next stop was Lacock village. Also located in Wiltshire, this little village dates back to the 13th century. It is owned mostly by the National Trust.

We were very hungry by the time we arrived in Lacock. We would have been better prepared for the late lunch if we had been given a schedule for the day in advance.

We ate at the George Inn. We had been given a choice of 2 or 3 entrees when we originally boarded the bus and the orders were sent ahead. The price of the basic meal was included in the tour, however, drinks and dessert were extra. I believe almost everyone on the tour ended up paying something out-of-pocket for their meal.

As for the food my meal was delicious, but my husband’s meal was not. So, I guess it was hit and miss. This was alright as it wasn’t a culinary trip and expectations weren’t too high. The environment was intimate and friendly. It seemed that our tour group enjoyed their time here.

Following the meal, our guide gave us a walking tour of Lacock. How charming! It is easy to see why it is chosen as a film location for television and movies. From the lock-up to the stone tile roofs and history, it is all fun to see. It is like stepping back in time.

Next, back onto the bus for the trip to Bath.

 

Bath

Bath England and the river Avon

Bath is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is located in South West England in Somerset. It got its name because it is home of Roman baths fed from natural hot springs.

We first visited Bath Abbey which was gorgeous with its detailed ceilings, windows, architecture, and lighting. Amazing. We also took pictures by the Pulteney Bridge on the River Avon. Then we had an hour or so to walk through the city and get ice cream that our guide had suggested. It was beautiful and was a nice break from the bustling city of London that we had been spending our vacation time purusing.

No, we didn’t see the Roman Baths. You ask why? Our guide told us about them and recommended we don’t go. Once again, we only had about an hour and felt rushed. It was either the Roman baths or walk around and see the city. We chose the latter. People on the bus seemed happy with whatever choice they made. I would have liked to see the baths, but didn’t want to spend my entire time waiting in line to see them.

 

Drop-off

Back on the bus for the long ride back to London. And I do mean long. We got stuck in traffic, which isn’t the touring company’s fault, but they should be familiar with the traffic patterns and build that into the times. At this point, the time on the bus was wearing on us and I was glad that we chose the “shortened” day. In the end, the tour ended up taking much longer than we were told.

We also thought we would be dropped off where we had been picked up. Wrong! We were dropped off near a somewhat convenient Tube stop. We were able to be flexible and figure it out, but it had already been a long day. It would have been nice to know in advance.

 

Guide

Honestly, our guide was the most memorable part of the whole tour. When I reminisce about this tour with my family, he is the part that we talk about. He was a colorful character. I won’t mention his name to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent.

He spoke of personal stories and history with great passion. He also had a lot of opinions about the monarchy, the United States, and climate change to mention a few. He lectured on the locations we were visiting, but I am guessing there were no scripts to memorize because he took a lot of “artistic license” with the facts.

Granted, he was highly entertaining. It has to be difficult to hold the attention of dozens of people and talk all day long. I certainly wouldn’t want to do it. Many of the participants were delighted in the embellished facts. However, he did complain that Americans don’t rate him very well online. Ha ha ha, I wonder why!

A tour experience depends greatly on the guide. If you are there to be entertained, then that is fantastic and you would love this guy. If you want to learn, then perhaps you better get more reliable resources. Essentially, aside from not having to drive, the price of the tour is for the guide. It all boils down to your expectations and goals for the trip. Just don’t forget to bring your sense of humor.

 

Price

I tend to be a practical and conscientious consumer. I do realize that you usually get what you pay for and I am not afraid to pay for worthwhile things if that is what is called for.

Having said that, I feel that these tours aren’t cheap. They are comparable and competitive with all the other tours. So, I won’t say that they are priced out of the market because there is obviously a demand for it.

The tour included:

  • Stonehenge entrance fee
  • lunch (without drinks and desserts)
  • bus and driver
  • guide

We ended up paying out-of-pocket for:

  • transportation to pickup
  • drinks and dessert at lunch
  • donation for the Bath Abbey
  • ice cream in Bath
  • tip to guide/driver
  • transportation from drop-off

For a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 children) the tour cost us approximately $400. I estimate that it would have cost us about $200 to do it on our own (renting a car for the day, entrance to Stonehenge, lunch). Was the bus/driver and guide worth the extra money? In this instance, it was but just barely. Rating this tour as a whole I would give it a 3.5/5.

 

To tour or not to tour

Compiling the information, here is how to assess the question of whether or not to take a tour.

Tour Pros

  • Planning. Do you want to do the research and preparation (route, stops, meals, restrooms)? If not, let them run the show.
  • Transportation. Do you want to drive or manage logistics with transportation? If not, leave the traffic to them.
  • Guide. Do you want to learn or just experience in the moment? Guides can inform or entertain, or in our case infotain.
  • Security. Will you feel uneasy or unsafe in the location you are visiting? If so, go with a large group and a guide.

Tour Cons

  • Money. Do you have funds to allow for the expense? You can likely do it for less on your own.
  • Schedule. Do you like to look at things in depth or hurry along? There is little to no flexibility with a tour.
  • Choices. Are you particular about vehicles, food, or other aspects of travel? Tours allow for limited choices.
  • Independence. Are you a free spirit? Tours can tend to feel like you are being herded like animals.

Depending on the circumstances, it could go either way. Do your research ahead of time if possible. Unfortunately, the guide who plays such a large role in the tour is often an unknown factor. If you do choose to book a tour, remember to bring your patience and sense of humor.

So what do you think? Are you fiercely independent in your vacationing plans? Do you like to leave the driving to others?

Let me know your thoughts in the poll and comments.

 

In your experience, have tours been worth the money?

 

Resources

Lacock Village Tourist Information and Travel Guide at cotswolds.info

Premium Tours at premiumtours.co.uk

Stonehenge at english-heritage.org.uk

Visit Bath at visitbath.co.uk

World Heritage Sites at UNESCO